Ex-state education chief had been appointed to another post before resignation

| Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, 2:12 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Corbett appointed former Acting Education Secretary William Harner to an obscure state board only five days before he demanded Harner's resignation.

A Corbett spokeswoman, however, said the governor made the appointment on Aug. 13, prior to getting new information that helped him decide to ask for Harner's resignation for comments made at another job.

Appointments are often held up until the next press release is distributed by Corbett's communications office, said spokeswoman Lynn Lawson.

The disclosure of Harner's appointment occurs as Democrats intensified calls for more information about the vetting process.

“It's time for the administration to come completely clean on the timeline of the William Harner vetting process and investigation,” said Democratic Party spokesman Mark Eisenstein.

Details have dribbled out, often from unnamed sources, because Harner's departure is still basically a personnel matter, officials said.

Harner's departure was followed a day later by news stories that his replacement, Carolyn Dumaresq, had failed to disclose outside income from a consulting job in 2009 and 2010 while working for the state. Her spokesman said the mistake was quickly rectified.

Steve Crawford, who served as chief of staff to Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, was somewhat sympathetic.

“You try to find the most qualified nominees you can. There's no perfect vetting process. But when there's a pattern, maybe they need to look at certain things,” Crawford said.

Rendell withdrew the nomination of former Rep. Benjamin Ramos as Commonwealth secretary in 2003 for filing late campaign finance reports as a legislator. The Election Bureau was part of the department.

Harner's comments, described as “awkward” statements while superintendent of the Cumberland Valley School Board, landed him in trouble as a result of an Inspector General's background investigation and documents provided by the school district with Harner's permission.

One was a “joke” about how a male employee on vacation looked in a Speedo swimsuit, officials said.

An investigation for the district conducted by a private law firm found Harner broke no rules or laws.

“Any allegations against Dr. Harner during his tenure as district superintendent were fully investigated, and at no time was Dr. Harner found to have violated any law, regulation or district policy,” district spokeswoman Tracy Panzer said.

Harner's only statement since his resignation mirrored Panzer's.

Corbett last Thursday announced Harner's appointment to the Executive Board. The board handles issues such as workplace rules, personnel matters and job classifications. It is typically headed by the secretary of Administration and is comprised of five Cabinet members. Lawson said it is a “pro forma” appointment for the secretary of Education.

The board rarely meets, and members vote electronically by signing off on resolutions that go to the governor.

Top Corbett administration officials have said that Harner did not tell the governor about his comments. Other than the Speedo comment, Harner was not aware of other comments attributed to him that had been gathered by the district and included in his personnel file, a friend said.

The file was sent to the governor's office after it was requested by the Inspector General's investigators.

“I wish we knew (what transpired), especially since we're dealing with the Department of Education,” said Rep. Brandon Neuman, D-Washington County. “With positions as important as these, the public needs to know.”

Brad Bumsted is state Capitol reporter for the Tribune-Review. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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